September 2, 2022
Stephanie Dheur and Sarah DeCockrespectively Project Manager and Communication Manager at easy.brussels – the agency responsible for administrative simplification in the Brussels-Capital Region – aim to implement a simplification philosophy within the regional institutions in order to reduce the administrative burden for citizens and businesses.
The agency joined the UserCentriCities project a few months ago, which has just launched its latest production: the Service Design Toolkit, a must-have for anyone wishing to introduce a user-centric approach in the design of digital public services.
Could you give an example of your work that illustrates user orientation?
Stéphanie Dheur, Project Manager at easy.brussel
A project we have recently done is the Local Registration Authority (LRA). It is an application that the various Brussels municipalities can use to quickly and easily assign a secure and unique code to citizens so that they can connect to the administration’s online services.
Sarah De Cock, communication manager at easy.brussels
In Belgium, all citizens with an electronic identification card (e-ID) can access all public services online. However, a whole group of users does not have the possibility of using it. They may have lost it or not have access to it, for example in the case of expatriates. But they also need to access most services. For example, during the pandemic, people needed their e-ID to be able to download the Covid Safety Ticket.
The LRA is a solution developed at the federal level and can be used by other authorities; for example, municipalities can assign the LRA code directly.
Until June 2021, only one out of 19 Brussels municipalities offered this alternative. Our job therefore consisted of convincing more local authorities in the Brussels Region to include it among the solutions they were already proposing.
Why was only one municipality proposing the LRA?
We realized that the communication with the administrations had not been effective enough, because we encountered obstacles related to change and the fear of having an additional workload. There was a misunderstanding about the time and resources they needed to invest. The LRA does not need the administration to adapt to new technologies or spend money to implement them. The municipality must teach officers how to create and assign the code; that’s it.
In some cases, administrations resist online services for fear of having to let people go. However, this is not the case. On the contrary, digitization gives agents more time to deal with people who cannot follow online procedures, who need more help or for more complex processes that cannot be fully digitized. It’s a win-win.
So we focused our efforts on explaining to local governments what the technology entailed and convincing them to use it.
Did it work?
Only four municipalities in the Brussels Region still do not offer the LRA. We are also proud to see that some local authorities now offer this solution to all citizens – the service is not limited to the inhabitants of their municipality.
Why is user orientation important?
We want to simplify interactions between users and administrations. It’s at the heart of our mission, of our philosophy, so it’s essential for us. It guides all our actions.
When we were working on the LRA, what we wanted was to involve the user in the reflection and not just say to the municipality: “Here is a new service that you can offer”.
Thus, proposing a new service means providing arguments – and supporting local administrations – to meet users. For this, we have been helped by our partners such as FPS BOSA and Brulocalis.
How does this look in practice?
We produce communication materials for administrations and we train agents. Our global strategy covers digital inclusion, a subject on which we also collaborate with the Brussels Regional Informatics Centre. This helps us with direct communication and user training.
In a project like this, it is crucial to work with local partners. easy.brussels is the initiator, but the cities are really putting things in place. And we thank all our partners. Everyone, at their own level, is working to simplify administration.
Why did you join UserCentriCities?
We have a common goal: to put the needs of users at the center of our projects and improve their daily lives.
What did you learn from the project?
We regularly benchmark before each project and analyze what is happening elsewhere. UserCentriCities allows us to do this on an even larger scale. The scoreboard shows us how to position ourselves in relation to the rest of the European Union. It shows us where we can improve, what indicators we hadn’t taken into account, which projects are worth considering and how to develop them.
The project is an entry point for identifying contacts who can help us move forward with our initiatives. We take inspiration from what others have done, which saves us time. Because things tend to move slowly in the public sector, seeing that something has worked elsewhere allows us to push our administration to be more ambitious.
We also work directly with the Minister to simplify administration, and we can bring him new project ideas based on the inspiration we also receive from UserCentriCities.
Is there anything that stood out to you during your exchanges with the other UserCentriCities partners?
All states, regions and cities are subject to European obligations, so it is interesting to see how others are implementing them. Not everyone is at the same stage of development. Some are much more advanced in their digitalisation, but as European users we would like to have the same access to public services throughout the Union.
This is a challenge for the project. We all need to get to the same stage or offer the same services through a similar process. For example, the project of a single digital portal – a European platform that would allow citizens, businesses and NGOs to access different administrative processes – is a long-term project. But initiatives such as UserCentriCities can be a stepping stone towards this.
To find out more about UserCentriCities, to find out what other cities are doing and to see the tools developed within the project, visit: www.usercentricities.eu